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What California is to cinema and New York is to fashion, Tennessee is to country music.

While Tennessee has and will always be recognized as the country music hub of the world, the state has in more recent years attracted a wide and diverse population of creative minds, which has led to a boom in various industries, ranging from other musical genres, video and music production to health care and even the culinary arts.

Many of those innovative industries depend on the protection of intellectual property (IP) rights, which guarantees the patents on original ideas, music, designs, trademarks, inventions, innovations and so much more. Those budding businesses rely on patents to make profit, create jobs and boost the Tennessee economy.

As a co-owner of a small video production and marketing business in Nashville, I rely heavily on IP rights to make a living. According to recently released data from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's 2018 International IP Index, the U.S. patent ranking has decreased for a sixth consecutive year, falling to 12th place in the world.

A few years ago, I took a mission trip to Haiti. As a professional photographer and videographer, I took many pictures documenting my trip. I typically sell my pictures as stock photos for a small profit, but money earned from those photos is reinvested into future mission work. As a small business owner who relies on IP rights to protect my livelihood, imagine my surprise when I later stumbled upon one of my Haiti photographs being used by a large crowdfunding company in a blog post, misidentifying Haiti as Africa, no less.

As an artist, it is alarming to see one's work stolen and used out of context, but as a small business owner it is even more frustrating because the use of my intellectual property without compensation results in lost revenue for my company. This situation re-enforces the need for our legislators to place protections on IP high on the priorities list, especially in Congress.

Recently, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker co-sponsored legislation to strengthen IP for musicians from the pre-1972 era. The CLASSICS Act ensures that music legends are properly compensated when their pre-1972 era music is played digitally. This is a positive development that Tennessee business owners should support because it sets a foundation for further protectionist IP legislation down the road.

Like many small businesses in the creative field, the work we produce at Rift Media is our intellectual property and we rely on IP protections to protect that work from being taken and used (or misused) by others who will profit from it. This happens often in our field, and much of it goes unreported. And that's not the worst of it.

IP theft is a concern for all types of industries, from music to tech, and for businesses both large and small. It reduces revenue, harms brands and decreases incentives to innovate. My photo of Haiti was used and misappropriated by another company, with admittedly small impact on me, but companies as large as Nike and Apple must face the scourge of counterfeits and patent and trademark infringement on a massive scale. It's estimated that the cost of IP theft to the U.S. economy is around $600 billion.

Therefore, it is so important, especially here in Tennessee, to ensure our legislators work to enforce strong protections on the IP rights, such as Sen. Corker's CLASSICS Act, because they are vital to the economy of Tennessee. I encourage readers to track this piece of legislation and encourage more like it to be considered before Congress and in our state capital, so that we hold our legislators accountable to Tennessee businesses.

Wes Beale is co-founder of Rift Media in Nashville.

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